Friday, December 24, 2010
My Dhaka Topi
I've never been one for souvenieers. In my younger years of travels, I collected many things, bought trinkets like a small chunk of the Berlin wall or shell necklaces from Hawaii, but I found those things just spent their lives in unmarked boxes in my parents' garage. There is one exception to this, hats.
For some reason, I like to collect hats. On of my last days of work after five years at UDS, I asked for one souvenieer, a chef's hat. In Australia, I returned with no boomerang, no whooping spinning thing on a string, no didgereedoo, only an acubra, the bushman's hat. My on item I wanted in remembrance of my grandfather was his styling stetson hat. I rarely wear such items. I once wore the stetson to work and was mocked by my coworkers, until my manager emerged with a sombrero. (which reminds me, I don't have one of those!). My acubra is my lawnmowing hat. The chef's hat, well it lives in an unmarked box in parents' garage, but it is still dear to my heart.
The only hat in China I wanted was a tiny white hat that was only worn by the Chinese muslims. I didn't search one out because I wasn't sure if there was any religious significance (I'm sure it means they went to Mecca or something along those lines). Tibet had some great hats, but these were reserved for elder monks and would not fit, undamaged into my backpack.
The Dhaka topi, the traditional hat of Nepal is fantastic! There are colorful oranges, blues, reds, greens, woven in repeated patterns, resembling a quilted leopard. They are not patchwork, but they have such an appearance. Mostly elder men wear them, rolling the extra fabric on top to give it a triangular peak. I really wanted one, but I was intimidated to buy one.
Finally in Tansen, I saw a row of shops selling them and knew this was my chance. I tried a couple, but then just picked one randomly. Mine was small, lacking the excess fabric to roll the top, but it still looked nice enough, almost like a fez. (hmm, that can go on the list too)
At first, I was afraid to wear it around. Since it was only worn by elders, I feared it may be a sign of wisdom and respect or a symbol of fatherhood. I looked at myself in the hotel mirror, thinking that it was a stylish hat, but I still couldn't muster the gumption to leave. Finally, the time came when I went to the store across the street for a snack. The storekeeper gave me a smile, but offered no adverse reaction, so I gained some courage and wore it the rest of the day, much to the amusement of the locals.
I was affectionately given the title, "Nepali guy." and everyone, no matter where I went with hat called me that.
At first, a person would say, "Hey Nepali guy!" and laugh a little. This laugh would always change to a kind of respect, realizing that on my head, I was wearing an outward interest in Nepali culture. They would then engage me in conversation, always asking me what I liked so much about Nepal. (And of course the answer was, "The hats!")
It is sometimes a little embarrassing, especially with young men, with backwards baseball caps, themselves are crowned with their interest in my own culture. Maybe they were confused as to why I chose to have the fashion of an old man. I like my hat though and I wear it proudly as my souvenieer from this wonderful country.